Michael Blahut is one of the authors of a fantastic book called ‘Bula Pops!: A Memoir of a Son’s Peace Corps Service in the Fiji Islands’. If you are curious what he had to say not only about his literary work but also about Fiji, just read the interview.
Pasifika Tales: ‘Bula Pops!’ is quite an unusual book – you co-authored it with your son. How did that happen?
Michael Blahut: I collected his emails and letters from Fiji. After him serving a year there, I went to visit him along with his younger brother, Eli. We spent three weeks there and travelled to three islands. When I came back home, I started to consolidate his notes and formatted them into MS Word. After he returned from Fiji, I continued to work on the book. He was helping me for a month. When he went to California, we continued to refine the book via email.
PT: Why did you decide to write this memoir? Did you just want to share your son’s experience, or did you want to give people a glimpse of life in Fiji?
MB: There were a couple of reasons. First, we wanted to document the experience of living in Fiji because of the many unusual encounters my son had; plus I had experienced it myself first-hand, and I could relate to his situation. Imagine living in a Fijian village, at the top of a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and enjoying this every day. The view was priceless.
Second, it was his Peace Corps experience, which he will draw upon every day for knowledge and solutions. His stories were funny and realistic; he showed his emotions and feelings.
PT: As you’ve mentioned, you had a chance to visit that South Pacific country. What was your first impression?
MB: It is a third world country, and do not let people tell you differently. There are resorts there that shelter the outside villages and the way people live. Staying the first night in my son’s village was an eye opener. The dogs were fighting and lizards were running up my leg. I had to go outside to use the bathroom, which was also part shower stall. I thought: ‘What am I doing here?’ But that all changed as I adapted. The water was beautiful and warm.
PT: Did Fiji live up to your expectations?
MB: I wasn’t sure what to expect. In the end, it was a wonderful experience. Snorkeling in the ocean and experiencing Fiji time. The people were friendly and helpful. It also helped that my son had learned Fijian and he could converse with the natives.
PT: You were in Fiji for a short period of time. Your son lived there for over 2 years. What were his thoughts of the country, its people and their culture?
MB: He was able to work for the Chief of his province and learned how the Fijians controlled the land, and the Fijian-Indians could only lease it. My son worked closely with many people. Some of them weren’t too motivated to do things or make changes. No guns are allowed in Fiji, so there are no shootings or real bad crimes. The Fijian diet consists of a lot of carbohydrates, and many of the Fijians are big people. There is a conflict between the Indians, who take up 50% of the population, and the native Fijians, who rule. The Fijian food is bland, the Indian food has more spices. It is a country that continues to grow, but they are slow to react to changes.
PT: It’s hard not to become a different person after living abroad for such a long time. In your opinion, how did the sojourn change your son?
MB: He felt a stronger need to connect with people and help them in more ways. He is now attending medical school at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine.
PT: Would either of you like to come back there one day?
MB: Yes, we talked about it. He still stays in touch with one Fijian there. We may come back when we find time in the future. This would definitely complete my son’s journey.